The Regressive Nature Of Post-Truth Politics In The 21st Century

The word “truth” has taken on a new quality in 21st-century politics. Many now question whom to trust with the truth: the government, the mainstream media, the fringe media, political parties, think tanks?

We have entered into what we might call the post-truth era, where vast swaths of modern day electorates find truth in emotion rather than in fact. A recent article in The Economist puts it concisely, noting  “a reliance on assertions that ‘feel true’ but have no basis in fact.”

We’ve seen this trend in the U.K. with the Brexit vote, where fears of immigration from the Middle East far exceeded actual immigration numbers. Other examples provided by The Economist article include the belief in Turkey that the recent attempted military coup was backed by the CIA, and Polish people's belief that the country’s former president was killed by the Russian government.

The advance of post-truthers has been slow, but steady. We can look back decades to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, or stay right in our backyard.



For years, politicians have vehemently denied the human influence on climate warming, and some contend that there isn’t any warming at all.

A striking example came in early 2015 when Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, threw a snowball on the Senate floor as proof that climate change shouldn’t be something to worry about as it keeps getting cold.

The disconnect there between truth and feeling is absurd, but powerful in the right circumstances.

Trump’s initial foray into politics with his birtherism claim, and his subsequent candidacy, have played on a number of issues where feeling can override fact.

There's the claim that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton literally founded ISIS: a post-truthism that to some just feels right -- despite the centuries of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias, and the void left following the military pullout decided on during the Bush presidency. But who cares about history?

Where does post-truth politics gather its staying power? Mostly on the Internet, of course, with blogs, social media, radio and other media.

The Economist attributes much of the advent of post-truth politics to a “fragmentation” of the media industry. The Web plays a central role in this, where fact can literally be made up or presumed, without much evidence. We read news that reinforces what was previously believed.

“Endangered is the refreshing and often enlightening serendipity of running into unexpected ideas, people or experiences that one might encounter while browsing through a newspaper or bookstore,” wrote Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune. “Instead, it’s easier to slip into an information silo of news and views that reinforce what we already believe, correctly or not.”

The questioning of fact is not always dangerous; it is often necessary. In truth, it is often dangerous to blindly accept a fact handed down by authority. That’s where Trump supporters’ constant questioning of the mainstream media (MSM for short in the right-wing sphere) is a strange continuation of centuries of fighting authority.

Think of the movement for women’s suffrage or the fight for civil rights, where whole demographic groups were put into disadvantaged positions using false “facts.”

The big difference here is those movements were fighting for something they never had: i.e., progress. What Trump supporters are fighting for is a life or status they’ve lost: i.e., regression. Those two historical dialectics are meeting with a rage in 2016, and we’ll find out soon enough which one wins.

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